Princeton wins NASA Competition to Develop Plasma Rocket

Aug 30, 2004

NASA has selected engineers at Princeton University to develop an advanced rocket thruster that could send people or robots to other planets with far less propellant than conventional engines.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded a three-year, $4.4 million contract to a team led by Edgar Choueiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, to develop an advanced type of rocket called a plasma thruster. The contract is part of a broad effort by NASA to develop "a new class of ambitious robotic and human exploration missions not possible with existing propulsion technologies," according to Ray Taylor, acting deputy director of NASA's Project Prometheus.

Plasma thrusters are unlike conventional rockets because they do not burn fuel. Instead, they produce superheated, electrically charged particles, called plasma, and use electromagnetic forces to propel the plasma particles from the thruster at a very high speed. Plasma thrusters need relatively little propellant because the particles can be made to move much faster than the combustion exhaust from conventional rockets. In Choueiri's system, the particles will be lithium ions.

Plasma propulsion systems have been used in recent space flights, but still do not operate at the very high power levels (hundreds of kilowatts) required for interplanetary flight, said Choueiri. His project, called "Alfa2: Advanced Lithium-fed Applied-field Lorentz Force Accelerator," could result in a rocket design capable of sending heavy cargo and humans to the moon, Mars or beyond.

Choueiri will lead a group that also includes scientists at three NASA facilities -- the Glenn Research Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center -- in addition to the University of Michigan and the Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute.

Source: Princeton University

Explore further: Breezy science, plant studies and more head to space station on SpaceX-4

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mass spectrometry in your hand

Sep 09, 2014

If you're out in the field doing environmental testing, food checks, forensic work, or other chemical analysis, mass spectrometry is an extremely accurate detection tool with one huge drawback: You can lose ...

MIPT-based researcher models Titan's atmosphere

Jul 24, 2014

A researcher from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Prof. Vladimir Krasnopolsky, who heads the Laboratory of High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres, has published the results of the comparison ...

PPPL studies plasma's role in synthesizing nanoparticles

Jul 22, 2014

DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has received some $4.3 million of DOE Office of Science funding, over three years, to develop an increased understanding of the role of plasma in the synthesis ...

Recommended for you

Finding hints of gravitational waves in the stars

3 hours ago

Scientists have shown how gravitational waves—invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe—might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that ...

How gamma ray telescopes work

4 hours ago

Yesterday I talked about the detection of gamma ray bursts, intense blasts of gamma rays that occasionally appear in distant galaxies. Gamma ray bursts were only detected when gamma ray satellites were put ...

NASA launches RapidScat wind watcher to Space Station

5 hours ago

A new NASA mission that will boost global monitoring of ocean winds for improved weather forecasting and climate studies is among about 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of NASA science investigations and cargo ...

User comments : 0